Ritualistic Animal Sacrifice in Ancient India

July 31, 2009 at 3:22 pm 65 comments

To the common Hindu, the very idea of killing a cow – an animal considered to be holy in their religious tradition – is capable of sending a chill down the spine. To regard a cow as a holy animal is a very deep-rooted belief and an unquestionable convention among the Indian Hindu. It comes as a surprise, thus, when several noteworthy scholars begin to claim that cow sacrifice was the norm among most rituals in Vedic India. This claim was first made in the book History and Culture of Indian People (Vol. I) published by Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. The collection has been blessed with essays from noted philosophers and historians such as Dr. Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, Dr. Suniti Kumar Chatterjee, Dr. B. L. Apte and others. In the chapter titled The Vedic Age, while expounding on the issues of marriage and the role of women in soceity, Dr. Apte writes:

“The guest were entertained with the flesh of cows, killed on the occassion (Rig. 10.85.13)”

Moreover, in another book, Vedic Index of Names and Subjects by Macdonell and Keith, the explanation of the same mantra contains

“The marriage ceremony was accompanied by the slaying of oxen, clearly for food.”

Being a moderately traditional Hindu myself, I opened the Rig Veda to quell my doubts, and saw

suryaayaa vahatu praagaat savitaa yamavaasrujat |
aghaasu hanyate gaavo arjunyoh paryuhyate ||

(Rig. 10/85/13)

Clearly, we find written in the most sacred book of Hinduism, hanyate gaavo! Did the sages of ancient India really consume beef? Is this why the word goghnah a synonym for “guest”? In the famous rituals such as ashvamedha yagna and gomedha yagna, did they really sacrifice cows and horses respectively? Were marriage ceremonies accompanied with feasts of alcohol (soma) and beef?

Some Hindu leaders have tried getting past this issue by claiming that go in Vedic Sanskrit meant tongue or earth or something else. They have created many imaginative stories about how such a “true” interpretation opens the doors of Yogic mysticism to a layman. But such winding stories do not appeal to the logical mind.

In order to clearly understand the Vedas (and associated literature like the Upanishads), one must invest adequate time to study Paninian grammar, Yaaska’s Nirukta, the translations of great Sanskrit scholars like Durgaacaarya, the dictionary of Vedic Sanskrit Nighantu, and the Brahmanas. The foreign pundits who have often had questionable intentions behind their interest in ancient India, and who have relied solely on the worst translations available of Vedic literature (viz., the works of Sayana, Mahidhara and Uvat), are not to be taken seriously. And the Indian scholars who rely on the works of these foreign pundits to comment on Vedic literature are wrong. No matter how famous they are or how knowledgable they are in their respective fields, when it comes to Vedic Sanskrit, they are categorically and certainly wrong.

It is, no doubt, a great tragedy, that the corrupted myth of meat-eating Vedic sages is gaining popularity in a country where the Cow is worshipped and leather is not permitted within the boundaries of a temple, where killing a cow has been likened to killing a man and such murderers have been ostracised by the society. I fail to imagine how fertile the imagination of these pundits must be! It is ridiculous to have such deep-rooted traditional values sprouting from a religion with diametrically opposite ritualistic activities. The very thought is ridiculous!

The meaning of yagna:

The Vedas and other ancient Sanskrit texts mention ashvamedha yagna and gomedha yagna. From these words some European Indologists and a clan of Indian historians have started believing that yagnas were rituals that comprised of horse (ashva) and cow (go) slaughters. To the upholders of such insensitive passing remarks, I ask: Hindu texts also mention pitr-yagna and atithi-yagna. Will these so-called scholars translate them to mean “ritual of the father” and “ritual of the guest” where the father and the guests were sacrificed at the altar respectively?

Nighantu tells us that yagna means “adhvara”. (Nighantu. 3/17)

Yaaska writes:

adhvara iti yagnaanaam |
dhvarati himsaakarmaa tatpratishedha tatpratishedha ||

(Nirukta. 1/8)

The explanation is given as follows:

dhvaratervadha karmanah pumsi samgnaayaam ghah naNpoorva|  dhvaraa himsaa tadabhaavo yata |

(Ashtaadhyaayi 3/4, 118 and Nighantu 1/17)

Allow me to elucidate. The word adhvara comprises of two words – ‘a’ (negation) and ‘dhvara’ = violence or any other malafide intent (himsaa in Sanskrit). The word yagna, thus, is called ahimsaa or non-violence by the Vedic sages. It should never nave been translated as “ritual” by the Indologists. To get more specific examples, I mention here the following mantra from Yajur-Veda:

ashvam naa himseeh |

(Yajur. 13/42)

Which means, “a horse is not to be harmed”. I hope these proofs suffice to show that animals sacrifices were not even among the distant dreams of ancient Indian people. If this does not satisfy the readers, let us further delve into the issue of “beef-eating Hindus”.

Beef in Vedic Hinduism:

In the Vedic dictionary Nighantu we find a few synonyms of the word go, which, in modern Sanskrit and several other Indian languages, means “cow”. The collection reads: aghnyaa, aditi, usraa, usriyaa, ahee, mahee, jagati, etc. (Nighantu. 2/11)

The word aghnyaa literally means “one who is not to be killed”. The noted Sanskrit scholar Devaraja Yaajva (circa 1200 A.D.) explains the word aditi as “nadyati akhandaneeyaa” [ na + a + dita akhandaneeyaa]: one who should not be taken apart (literally as well as metaphorically). Even Yajur Veda clearly calls a cow by this name, and clearly forbids killing of a cow under any circumstances:

gaam maa himseeraditim viraajam ||

(Yajur. 13/43)

The cow is aditi. She is not to be harmed in any manner.

The Shatapatha Braahmana we find “ . . . ghrtam duhaanaam aditim janaayeti | . . . eshu lokeshwanam maa himsaareeti ||“.

[Trans.: The one who provides ghee is aditi. She is not to be harmed.]
Further, in the Nirukta, we find Yaaska explaining the usage of the word go as follows: athaapyasyaam taaddhitena tena kasnavasannisamaa bhavanti| gobhih shreeneeta matsaramiti payasaa matsar somo mantatestrpti karmanah|

(Nirukta. 2/5)

This explains a certain rule in Sanskrit grammar known as taaddhita, meaning “like that”. More commonplace examples are words like mrganayani. Even though the word literally means “eyes like a deer”, the intended meaning is “eyes like the eyes of a deer”. This word is used to describe a beautiful woman or girl. No matter how scholarly an exposition, you wouldn’t believe that poet such as Kalidasa described his heroine with eyes shaped like a four-legged animal, would you? The same rule applies to the usage of the word for “cow” in Vedas. The Sanskrit word go has been used with the taaddhita rule. This is the reason why Yaaska mentions “gobhih shreeneeta matsaram“. It does not mean “cook the dairy” or “cook the cow”; it means “cook the dairy product” (in India, that would be ghee).

Returning to the Rig Veda:

Please recall the sukta we started this article with:

suryaayaa vahatu praagaat savitaa yamavaasrujat |
aghaasu hanyate gaavo arjunyoh paryuhyate ||

(Rig. 10/85/13)

This entire sukta is an explanation of the gravitational forces between the earth and the sun. And the sun has been declared the devataa of this sukta. Together with that scientific discourse, as a poetic alankaara, is added the description of social rites such as marriage. The word hanyate in the above sukta is what has prompted many historians to claim that cows were sacrificed. Did they bother to study Vedic Sanskrit? Probably not. The word hanyate is derived from the roor verb han, which not only means violence, but also (and more popularly) “motion” (Nighantu. 2/14).

It is interesting to note that the same group of scholars who have conveniently forgoteen the latter meaning here, have not hesitated to re-discover it elsewhere! Anyway, I request the reader to be driven by common sense, and put the two meaning together . . . this gives birth to the first colloquial usage of the word which came to mean “to make something move”. In this sense, the word han has even been used to mean “motivate (a student) to move (along the path of knowledge)”!

Thus, aghaasu hanyate gaavo means “to make the cows move along”. In the Vedic ages, cows were economic assetts. And exchange of these assetts took place in marriages. In astrology, the waning of summer was called the period of the maghaa nakshatra. The cows were made to travel during this period. The sukta itself mentions the arjuna nakshatra (arjunyoh paryuhyate), also called the faalguni nakshatra. This astrological classification is even today considered to be good for a Hindu marriage. To strengthen my case, I should mention that another sukta from Atharva Veda reads exactly like the one presented here from Rig Veda, with “aghaasu” replaced by “maghaasu” and “arjunyoh paryuhyate” replaced by “faalgunishu vyuhyate” (Atharva. 14/13). This sukta, while talking of marriage, simply mentions the time of the marriage and the fact that cows were given as gift to the newly married couple, and that these cows were made to travel to the couple’s abode during the waning of the summer months. This view is reinforced by the translation of Vedas by the noted Vedic scholar Sri Khemkaran Das Trivedi.

Guests beefed up?

Getting “guests being treated to beef” from the word “goghnah” is perhaps the most obvious as well as the most stupid case of mistranslation I have ever seen. The very word “aghna” means “the one who cannot be killed or hurt”. The cow has been called “aghnya” in several places in the Vedas. Rig  10/87/16, Yajur 8/83, Atharva 9/4/17 to name a few.

This problem arises from the phrase “goghnohatithih“. It is a mere comparative statemtent meant to convey that one should be willing to give away even the holiest of assetts, a cow, to a guest, since a guest must be treated as God. If a cow is killed due to a guest, the guest becomes what is called “nimitta kaaranam” (instumental cause) in Hindu philosophy. Certainly, a religion is not likely to teach that God is the instrumental cause behind the demolition of something holy!!


(1) antakaaya goghaatam [Trans. Death sentence for the one who kills the cow.]

(Rig. 30/18)

(2) aare te godanamuta purushagnam [Trans. Leave! O murderers of cows and murderers of men.]

(Rig. 1/114/10)

I do not adhere to such punishments in today’s world. But I hope it is clear that a text that proscribes death sentence for killing a cow, cannot possibly describe learned men sacrificing them in rituals.


It is an unpardonable offense that a certain group of historians have been committing by their not entirely unintentional corruption of India’s history and her heritage. How did they infer “cow slaughter” from phrases like the one they quote? If they had so much as casually browsed through the Vedic dictionary Nighantu, they would have noticed the appearance of the verb “han” under the section of motion-specific verbs: hanati, hanti, hantaat. (Nighantu. 2/14) Even a rudimentary knowledge of Sanskrit grammar is enough to understand “goghna” is to be broken up as “gaam hanti“. Is it not extremely clear that these historians and Indologists were studying a civilization without studying its language? Will these people have the audacity to study European history without having studied a credible translation of the Latin texts (if not the original texts in Latin)? Will they proceed to comment on Jewish history with no knowledge of Hebrew?

I have presented the results of my research on this topic. It is up to you whom to trust. A bunch of European scholars on the payroll of colonial expansionists, or the greatest scholars of Sanskrit like Panini and Yaaska? The contemporary historians who follow Max Muller’s interpretation of Sanskrit, or those who invest several years into the study of Sanskrit under the guidance of noteworthy scholars here in India?

If you choose to follow the former, my only request is this: please translate the word “gay” in all 18th century English poetry as “homosexual” and read the poems. You will then, hopefully, understand the pain I am going through.


Entry filed under: hinduism, history, india, nationalism, religion, society. Tags: , , .

The India outside India – I I, Motherland

65 Comments Add your own

  • 1. tao4all  |  August 3, 2009 at 10:05 am

    looks like they are still busy doing this (and more) my friend:

    • 2. Ritwik Banerjee  |  August 3, 2009 at 11:17 am

      You probably missed out on the title of my post: “ancient India”. I think the news item pertains to an event not quite ancient. Moreover, the news also mentions a “witch doctor”, of course, calling him a “Hindu witch doctor”. What makes you think that any inhabitant of India who is not a Muslim or a Christian or a Buddhist or a Sikh or a Jain must be a Hindu?

      But most importantly, every society has anti-social elements. They are not upheld as prime examples of such a society. If you find a post titled “Brotherhood in Christianity”, will you post a comment with a link to a murder or a rape of an ordinary citizen? Think with your mind, not with whatever it is that you are using as its substitute.

  • 3. tao4all  |  August 3, 2009 at 1:55 pm

    That was a very big response for a small message. Sure you are thinking and not just repeating?
    You know just as well as me, that in the least educated regions of india (as well as in africa) – there are elements that have survived since the bronze age.
    I have no problem with hinduism, but I do have a problem with fundamentalists that are incapable of looking at the big picture.

    And you probably missed out the “helping hand here”. You wrote about animal sacrifices in ancient india — the next logical step would be to look into human sacrifies.

    But hey, keep up the compassionate work..

    • 4. Ritwik Banerjee  |  August 3, 2009 at 2:29 pm

      Actually I wrote about the lack of animal sacrifices in India. But since you haven’t even read this post, let’s not go into that.
      My reply was big because there were too many mistakes in that small comment of yours. When a child makes ten mistakes while it’s learning to walk, an adult tries to correct all of them.
      You have succeeded in promoting your post, however. A pat on your back for that.

  • 5. scorpria  |  August 5, 2009 at 8:18 am

    Awesome article! Loved it.

    It is absolutely true that people reach their own conclusions of these Vedic texts with their minimal knowledge of r a few Sanskrit words or even of an on-the-surface knowledge of this country’s literature and culture!

    Well done!

    • 6. Ritwik Banerjee  |  August 5, 2009 at 10:57 am

      It is always good to see you here. 🙂
      I have begun delving into Vedic Sanskrit on my own, and I already find myself facing a vast ocean of undiscovered knowledge. Some may call this “fundamentalist” . . . but since those comments come from people who only have a few prejudices to guard, I don’t take them seriously. I even had a person who didn’t know a single syllable of Sanskrit saying “you are lost in symbols”.

      It motivates me a great deal to see encouraging comments from readers such as yourself. Thank you.

  • 7. Manish Chakravarty  |  August 18, 2009 at 3:47 am

    Chal tera blog bhi mil gaya. I like your writings.. added to my GReader now 🙂

    My pathetic attempts at writing are at: http://manishchaks.blogspot.com/ while my work related blog continues to be http://manish-chaks.livejournal.com/

  • 8. tinarathore  |  August 19, 2009 at 8:38 pm

    quite a scholarly article. simply amazed at your understanding and appreciation of the vedas. despite being a practising hindu i had never delved into these issues before. in fact we need more people like you who can bring a clear understanding of our religious text, it is a pain to see words misinterpreted for one’s own needs. keep up the good work.

    • 9. Ritwik Banerjee  |  August 22, 2009 at 4:17 am

      That meant a lot to me, Tina. To be honest, the erudition does not spring forth from my own understanding of Sanskrit. I have merely put together several arguments from several books and papers from written by noted Sanskrit scholars. These are real scholars, real people . . . with real knowledge in this subject. Unlike most Indologists who have PhDs from Harvard, these are people who have sat in small towns all over India and produced brilliant works in the areas of Indian history, Sanskrit studies and religion-studies. They have shunned the tinsel world of marketing, and hence, it is difficult to find their works. I have only created a collage of some of their works, and put up a few posts on this blog. The real credit for these posts go to people like Mahamahopadhyaya Gopinath Kaviraj, Sivaramakinkar Jogatrayananda, Sri Shailendranarayan Ghoshal Shastri and Jogendranath Bagchi. The well known philosopher J N Mohanty, at one point of time, was a student of Jogendranath Bagchi.

      The Internet will have few, if any, of their works. But if you manage to find any book authored or edited by these people, buy them without thinking twice. These are priceless resources.

  • 10. Shreevatsa  |  August 21, 2009 at 3:14 pm

    This is excellent! I had no idea of your interests when I knew you. 😉 How have you been learning?
    It is a terrible state of affairs that there are people who consider even learning Sanskrit to be “fundamentalist”; the less said about them the better. (I don’t know how the myth of Sanskrit as a “Brahmin language” arose in the first place.) BTW, if you need to transliterate into Devanagari (etc.), I’ve written a script that might help.

    It should perhaps not be too surprising to see these historians making mistakes that even students can find fault with.
    Not to cause you much distress, but have you heard of the state of (parts of) “Hindu studies” in American universities? A place to start is Rajiv Malhotra’s essay RISA Lila – 1: Wendy’s Child Syndrome.

    • 11. Ritwik Banerjee  |  August 22, 2009 at 4:26 am

      How have I been learning? Well, Shreevatsa, I think my reply to Tina’s comment above will give you the answer. One major problem lies in overcoming the blindly-put labels and stigmas that our education has thwarted us with. Unlike you and me, very few educated Indians will even think of questioning the idea of Sanskrit being a Brahmin language. Ignorance is the only reason such superstisions thrive. Sanskrit literature is full of instances where Sudras have taught higher casts (eg, Vidur teaching Yudhishtira in Mahabharata) and women have been great scholars (eg, Apala authoring a sukta in Rig Veda). Most Indians are ignorant of all these things because a secular education denies them access to such anecdotes. The same education, however, does not stop from calumniating other anecdotes where it fits their agenda.

      I had not heard of Wendy Doniger (thank my stars!). I would not bother about her ….. she has made a career out of marketing her ideas to a bunch of ignoramuses. Just like you say, “the less said about them the better”.

  • 12. ~A Banerjee~  |  February 18, 2010 at 10:34 am

    Brilliant! Never had time to read it before. Keep it up, I am blessed.

  • 13. JanVEDA  |  June 10, 2010 at 11:48 am

    Pretty good. Just a little correction:

    > (1) antakaaya goghaatam [Trans. Death sentence for the one who kills the cow.]
    (Rig. 30/18)

    The ref. is incomplete and I haven’t found this passage in RV

    >(2) aare te godanamuta purushagnam [Trans. Leave! O murderers of cows and murderers of men.]
    (Rig. 1/114/10)

    Here both sacred-texts.com (Devanagari) and Briggs (transliterated) editions have ‘goghnam’ instead of ‘godanamuta’.

    Hari bol

  • 14. S. Misra  |  July 1, 2010 at 4:29 pm

    Thank you for the article and clarifying things so well.

    I am a Bengali (just like I think you are) and have found to my dismay that Bengali youths are the first take up beef-eating once they come to western countries. Now I don’t think they are practising Hindus at all or that they care anything about Dharma.
    But the worst part is that they try to justify their acts by perpetrating the lies that there used to cows and horse sacrifices even in Vedic times. This is what anguishes me the most. Why can’t they just stick to their ways of atheistic/ communist life and leave our Dharma out of it?!

    • 15. Ritwik Banerjee  |  July 1, 2010 at 5:59 pm

      I share your despise and your wonder. The answer I have settled upon is this: look at any average Indian, and in particular Bengali, youth, and you will see that we are a weak nation consisting of weak hearts and minds. It is easier to blame your predecessors than to blame yourself for your faults. Just like most disturbed teenagers blame their parents for any wrong they do, or just like a criminal blames the society for turning her/him into what s/he became, an average Indian blames the Indian tradition for all our failures today. That’s the first reason for the justification that you point out. This act of blaming our tradition had been fueled by almost all Indologists from the last century, and several Indian historians have been upholding their legacy with great effort and perhaps greater malice.
      Also, you might have noticed that not respecting a tradition allows an individual to indulge in anything they desire. But few possess the courage to admit it, and this cowardice is the second reason behind their justification. They will indulge in everything, and they will repeat “this is what my tradition taught me” upon any confrontation.

      By the way, it is interesting to note that Hinduism, by definition, is not an organized religion. It is merely the label attached to people from the sub-continent “hapta-hindu” (the Zend language verion of “sapta sindhu”). And atheism is one of the main schools of philosophy in Hinduism, being known as ‘caarvaak darshan’ in Sanskrit.

      • 16. Anand Viswanathan  |  February 14, 2011 at 6:57 pm

        Atheism is not a school of philosophy in Hinduism. This is just a fancy statement that Indians want to tell the world. How can a religion that talks about creator accept charvakas as Hindus. Obviously it is a scam of the new age philosophers. Those who accept the authority of Vedas are the vaidikas of India. Even the Buddhists and Jains are not Hindus(that being a broad term). Just because people talk about a philosophy in sanskrit does not make it vedic. Why would so many acharyas in the vedic fold try to crush the charvaka arguements(which are lethal to social life) if it is accepted here?

      • 17. Anand Viswanathan  |  February 14, 2011 at 7:00 pm

        That said…..if you say anything on the other side of Indus river looking from Pakisthan is ‘Hindu’, then you are right. Even Jains are Hindu. However, the modern association of the word does not hold that meaning. It clearly has a meaning of religion with gods.

      • 18. cd55  |  May 31, 2011 at 3:45 am

        Samkhya darshan was one of the major school of philosophy, and is indeed an atheist philosophy!! Even Adveta philosophy dosent have a Creator God, it attributes everything that exists as Bramhan.

      • 19. Anand Viswanathan  |  August 26, 2011 at 2:11 am

        You are right. Sankhya is nireeshvara vaadam. That is why it is not accepted as a reasonably correct interpretation of vedic idea by major schools of thought. However, it is different from charvakas in the sense that it accepted vedic authority and misinterpreted it. That is all. Similarly, advaitam and even purva mimamsa. However, all of these schools accept some form of atma/sentience unlike the charvakas who deny this too.

  • 20. Sagar  |  August 1, 2010 at 7:01 am

    Its encouraging to see you fight against these misinterpretations coming in from “reputed” Indologists and Historians – who have tried to denigrate traditions in every possible manner!

    Good luck!

  • 21. raghavendra  |  August 4, 2010 at 7:27 pm

    i’ve always believed that the western indologists esp of max mueller type who have worked during colonial days have never understood sanskrit as it should be and propagated false versions.
    but the problem is even the current historians of free india also follow and revere them and stubbornly cling to such notions
    they even go on to call people trying to explain the real thing as “fundametalists”

    i hope people finally get to know the truth and efforts such as this will help in a long way

    good luck

    • 22. Ritwik Banerjee  |  November 5, 2010 at 3:53 am

      As far as I have observed, most historians cling on to a belief system. They are not scientists, but people who protect the faith that provides the foundation of their career. Ignore them, that’s the only way to gradually uncover the truth.

  • 23. jaypee mahanta  |  October 18, 2010 at 8:16 am

    So many discussions are being made on animal sacrifice. Is there any way to stop animal sacrifice in our country. We in the name of so called tradition, killing innocent domestic animals only. In my view killing an animal to eat, to protect ourselves is an other matter, but in the name of religion it is no good. We all are becoming ASURAS by killing those innocent animals. In earlier days killing of animals were done by asuras mainly. In my opinion animal sacrifice in the name of religion and tradition in public places and anywhere should be banned. We can not equate tradition as religion. I am not a scholar nor a known person of vedas, but I know one thing that the concept of animal sacrifice in the name of religion and so called tradition is of no good. It is fastly becoming to be a curse to the Hindu as a whole. So I want you to make your views on it- are we not indulging our youth to be modern day asuras by such kind of meaningless social customs. (Your answer to S Misra)

    • 24. Ritwik Banerjee  |  November 5, 2010 at 3:55 am

      I agree with you. Taking a life, whether in the name of religion or otherwise, is certainly akin to the actions of an asura. I am especially horrified when such acts take place in the name of religion because then, not only are you committing a crime, but you are doing so while denigrating something worthy of immense respect.

  • 25. dr prakash  |  November 5, 2010 at 3:33 am

    please tell me in details about animal sacrifice practices in vedic period—i am making a movie. how they were likked , which animals were killed–who actually butchers them —what they do after killing? etc etc

    • 26. Ritwik Banerjee  |  November 5, 2010 at 3:51 am

      Dr Prakash, I don’t think you read a single word on this page. Go ahead and make your movie, for my post is an answer to exactly what you asked.

  • 27. Navin  |  November 17, 2010 at 7:56 pm

    Hi Ritwik,

    Excellent article. I have to accept that I was completely taken in by these so called experts on these things. I read a book called
    ” Life and Times in the Ramayana period” . There they mentioned that bharat’s army was given an option of beef when he went to meet Lord Rama while in Vanvas. I considered that as the authoritative word, as that book was written in the late 19th century and thus I assumed relatively free from the influences of the so called western experts.

    Now it seems that the only authoritative method of understanding vedic texts is ones own knowledge of the
    Sanskrit language.

  • 28. anindya  |  November 26, 2010 at 8:30 pm

    your response is tooooo long. I am almost lost. Would you care to explain if there is a Sanskrit text for this in Rigveda.?

    “The guest were entertained with the flesh of cows, killed on the occassion (Rig. 10.85.13)”

    Can you put up the sanskrit version of the text under Rig. 10.85.13?

    if yes, then we can judge if it a gross mistranslation of the text or not

    • 29. anindya  |  November 26, 2010 at 8:34 pm

      oh yeah, I found it

  • […] Ritualistic Animal Sacrifice in Ancient India […]

  • 31. Manher  |  January 16, 2011 at 3:57 am

    wonderfully executed explaination.May you get more power to put many things right.The so easily
    influenced generation of ours need people like you to educate and pacify their corrupted thoughts via
    jai ho..

  • 32. Anand Viswanathan  |  February 14, 2011 at 7:12 pm

    This article is nice.
    I have one suggestion for you to create more content here regarding this. Get the books with names like “Myth of the holy cow” etc that quote these phrases and give an adequate correct explanation of the mistranslations.

    Also, Since the Vedic age, the itihasa and puranas are quoted to support the practice of cow slaughter in India. Since these people were following the vedas, it is very important to show that cow slaughter was not practised in these periods too(or if done, under circumstances which cannot be applied to the present age) or genuinely condemn them as wrong.

    For eg, a king called Rantideva is said to have killed 2000 cows everyday to feed the people. If this can be shown to be a mistranslation, then it would serve a great cause.

    • 33. Shaas  |  August 25, 2011 at 11:33 pm

      Re. “the itihasa and puranas are quoted”: I cannot imagine such quotes. Could you tell me which quotes you mean, where they appear?
      Rantideva? In which Purana?
      THank you!

  • 35. Shyam  |  July 24, 2011 at 11:14 am

    true… not sure who said this, but it still rings true: It has often been said that power corrupts. But it is perhaps equally important to realize that weakness, too, corrupts. Power corrupts the few, while weakness corrupts the many. Hatred, malice, rudeness, intolerance, and suspicion are the faults of weakness. The resentment of the weak does not spring from any injustice done to them but from their sense of inadequacy and impotence. We cannot win the weak by sharing our wealth with them. They feel our generosity as oppression.

    • 36. RB  |  August 25, 2011 at 11:50 pm

      Beautifully expressed, Shyam. Thank you.

  • 37. Shaas  |  August 25, 2011 at 11:28 pm

    Your article is fascinating. Thank you!
    Interesting observation is that those politicians/historians who accuse Hinduism of and issue a ban on the animal sacrifice are themselves meat eaters.

  • 38. Janya  |  November 10, 2011 at 5:03 am

    I have been told numerous times, that translations from one language to another may have errors and bias among other slips, example German to English as well as others, but somehow took in the vedic animal sacrifice slaughters for fact. Thanks for enlightening me. However, is there even a slight possibility that the Vedas did condone animal sacrifice?

    Lately, the horrific and willy-nilly animal sacrifices during the Nepal Gadi. . . festival have come into my awareness. Youtube is filled with scenes of animals, including cows getting slaughtered in the most painful of ways. Hindu Vedics are said to be the chief culprits. But Kali worshipers as well. And Wikipedia notes that Brahmins ate meat, including cows.

    What is going on here? Has Vedism been hijacked? Or is the truth being exposed? Your article answers some of these questions but there is a lingering doubt in my mind that some Hindus (cults of hinduism, sects) and Vedics are complicit in these cruel animal killings.

    Why is it that highly educated sanskrit Hindu/Vedic scholars are not coming out and telling us the truth, one way or another?

    • 39. Tama Shah  |  November 10, 2011 at 5:40 am

      Youtube videos, you say? Then the events can’t be that ancient, can they? I was talking about what happened at least two millenia ago when I titled this post “… Ancient India”. You ask too many questions, and the answers all obvious. But, you know what the noted scholars are all saying, if Wikipedia notes something, it must be true. So there’s not need for any further investigation.

      I hope my sarcasm was adequately clear.

      • 40. Janya  |  November 10, 2011 at 2:03 pm

        I am sorry that you took my quest for understanding as an attack. I am not a Vedic scholar nor have knowledge of Sanskrit, except for what I learnt in India in 5 th grade, and have just started learning about what is contained in these books. For you to be sarcastic about a sincere question shows a serious lack of good will on your part, especially since I appreciate the effort and understanding you have put into the article.

        I have a perfect right to ask questions. These are matters of serious concern for those of us who are Hindus (although not being experts in the Vedas) and who are now suddenly being exposed to the fact that “our holy scriptures” may have loads of horrific animal ritual sacrifices condoned.”

        I do understand the point you are making since you categorically say that the translations are inaccurate, and I did acknowledge that in my post, but my question was asking you, as you appear to be knowledgaeble, if there was any doubt in your mind at all, that animal sacrifices were, at any level were a part of the Vedas.

        Your answer, instead of sarcasm, ought to have been: “Absolutely not – I firmly believe and know that the Vedas do not contain any such intent to animal sacrifice, ancient or otherwise.” This you did not say, so, any intelligent person who has real concerns about this aspect of the Vedas and their meaning will continue to pursue questions, whether you like it or not.

  • 41. Janya  |  November 10, 2011 at 2:45 pm

    I perfectly know that Wikipedia is not an unbiased platform, but it is a fairly good guide and in the absence of authentic information from those in the “know”, this is what is available to the hurried fact finder. In fact, if the Vedas do not contain references to true, objective, physical animal sacrifice rituals, Vedics should as a dharma, make themselves heard in Wikipedia, or if Wikipedia does not allow this (as seems to be the case lately), refute what Wikipedia says on an alternative platform.

    • 42. Tama Shah  |  November 10, 2011 at 4:25 pm

      I apologise for my earlier response. My sarcasm was directed not at your questions themselves, but at the approach you have taken to resolve them. As you yourself mention in the last reply, Wikipedia and other such obvious platforms of information are for “hurried” fact finding. From what I have understood in every step of my life so far, is that hurried fact finding is not going to get us any answers. Wikipedia is a platform of popular knowledge. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it’s a platfor mof popular belief, because most people do not verify the sources and citations there, and even beliefs and/or assumptions are propagated as facts. There are well-proved scientific models called “belief propagation” that even simulate this phenomenon very well. Anyway, I digress from the main point, which is this: given a society where almost all noteworthy scholars have believed in a notion (namely, Hindus ate beef) for almost a century – based on one single document (the mistranslations I have mentioned in the article), it is very difficult to turn the tables. For example, if you want to publish this research in any journal or conference of sociology, history, indology, etc, your research will simply be rejected. The existing stalwarts in the academia oppose this view, and this research will never be allowed to even make an entrance in those circles. And unless a fact, knowledge or information is cited by that academic coccus of professors and scholars, the general people are never going to trust it. There are alternate circles where Vedic knowledge is discussed. Which is how I found out about this topic, among many others. But citations to these research groups are rejected by sites such as Wikipedia. Simply because for every one person who cites these, there are literally hundreds of other editors who mark it as false, spam and flag it down.

      I hope I have been able to answer your question with this reply. My only request to you is this: if you are seriously searching for answers, search harder, and do not compromise on your belief until you have genuinely questioned every single “proof” (intentionally within quotes) that opposes your belief. Once you have gone through that intense verification process, however, be prepared to change your belief if needed. Finally, again, I apologize for my initial retort yesterday.

  • 43. Janya  |  November 10, 2011 at 5:58 pm

    Thank you for your response and your work on this site.

    We are to such for the truth. But where should a person like me begin?

  • 44. Tama Shah  |  November 10, 2011 at 6:03 pm

    As far as Hinduism is concerned, there are two things to be done in parallel. First, start leaning Sanskrit. Second, start reading books on Hinduism written by Hindu authors, but be very careful in choosing these books because many recent books are written with a political motive behind them. Also, avoid English translations like the plague. I would suggest the works of Swami Vivekananda for starters.

  • 45. Mr. Kanchan B. Nikam  |  November 24, 2011 at 8:48 pm

    I am not an expert in Vedic Literature nor do I have an interest in anything Vedic. But when posts like yours try to picture Hinduism as a ‘Picture Perfect’ religion or ‘Dharma’ as you call it, I start having a problem, because there is a very thin line in saying, ‘This is a good thing to follow.’, and ‘This is such a good thing that this MUST be followed’.

    The fact that there exists cow-sacrifice and animal-sacrifice in some parts of the supposedly ‘Hindu’ world, and which is supposedly a tradition in such parts certainly suggests that Hinduism DID in fact have such a tradition in some point in its past. Whether it was sanctioned by the Vedas or not thus becomes irrelevant as one must look at the ACTIONS that were sanctioned – for such actions wouldn’t have survived had they not been sanctioned – rather than the WORDS, that were maybe not understood or maybe misinterpreted by the then reigning rote-learned Brahmin who did not understand completely what he was regurgitating (Manusmriti and even so many stories of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata make it abundantly clear who was reigning and so a Brahmin’s sanction – or at least a blind eye – must have been necessary).

    Furthermore, I don’t think you are refuting the contention that the Rig-Vedic Hindus, looked upon cattle as wealth. If cattle was wealth then it would be logical to think that it would be looked upon as a fit sacrifice for the gods. In fact the only sacrifice that WAS fit for the gods. Therefore I would not be surprised if Rig-Vedic Hindus were ‘cow-sacrificers’ if not cow-eaters.

    But either way, I don’t care as long as you do not start advocating a ban on cow-slaughter in India, to not hurt the sentiments of Hindus. For then I would expect a TOTAL ban on slaughter of any kind, including, rats, mosquitoes, dogs, termites, lice, nits etc. along with chicken, lamb, goat etc. so as to not hurt the sentiments of Buddhists and Jains.

    I for one would advice you to stop indulging in such minute study of books of the past (Whether it be the Vedas or the Bible or the Kuran or the Popul Voh or whatever). If the ‘knowledge’ and ‘truths’ in these books and religions have not survived in time – and in fact degenerated into a set of traditions based on lies, exploitation, blind obedience to degenerate leaders and superstition – then it’s high time for us to take up the study afresh with an unbiased mind, and come to proper scientific and reasoned conclusions that are more suited to the changed situation as it exists today.

    • 46. Janya  |  November 24, 2011 at 9:28 pm

      Mr. Kanchan – I totally agree with you. You make some very good points. My only real concern is with relieving the pain and suffering caused to other living beings. I know very well, that in the present Earth existence eating and being eaten cannot be avoided. Thank you for your insights.

  • 47. poorvita  |  December 15, 2011 at 10:15 am

    I’m a research student working on the plays of Girish karnad. Karnad’ s play Bali – the sacrifice deals with the theme of animal sacrifice. Your insightful explanation on the ritual has been really helpful in gaining the requisite information. Thanks to scholars as you who take great pains so that novice practitioners like us may heave a sigh of relief…

  • 48. B  |  June 26, 2012 at 4:23 am

    Thank you for this clarification. Sacrifice was always something I couldn’t really fit into the picture of ancient India, yet scholars had been steadfast on it. This makes a lot more sense given all the garbage the colonialists did with the history of India and the subsequent versions of history that have plagued the continent ever since. Keep writing! I feel your pain!

  • 49. Anand  |  July 25, 2012 at 7:23 am

    There are numerous references in the smrtis which say that killing of animals and even eating of their flesh, if done strictly as an offering for Gods with no motive of eating the flesh, then is not really himsA and is very much permitted. What is your opinion on that. For ex: ch.5 of manu smrti. Many smrtis give very elaborate descriptions of the sacrifices, who does whata nd who eats which portion etc. How are these understood?

  • 50. Anand  |  July 25, 2012 at 7:33 am

    Another place is the vedAnta sUtra- azuddham iti cet na zabdAt; every AcArya in his commentary to this sUtra has supported animal killing in sacrifice arguing that it is only a beneficial activity and is not himsA.

  • 51. Ian McDonald  |  September 22, 2014 at 4:04 pm

    I’m researching this topic for a radio history of vegetarianism. The available translations of RV 1.162 and 1.163 do seem to support the majority view of historians – that those were of animal sacrifices. I’d been interested to take a look at an alternative translation if you’d like to point me to one.

  • 52. tara  |  October 22, 2014 at 1:33 am


    You say –

    “The Vedas and other ancient Sanskrit texts mention ashvamedha yagna and gomedha yagna. From these words some European Indologists and a clan of Indian historians have started believing that yagnas were rituals that comprised of horse (ashva) and cow (go) slaughters. To the upholders of such insensitive passing remarks, I ask: Hindu texts also mention pitr-yagna and atithi-yagna. Will these so-called scholars translate them to mean “ritual of the father” and “ritual of the guest” where the father and the guests were sacrificed at the altar respectively?”

    The analogy between pitr-y… and atithi-y…, and ashva-m… and go-m… is false. The difference being the ‘medha’. If the pitr and atithi were to be sacrificed, it would have been atithi-medh and pitr-medh.

    Also, I notice that while you are keen to distinguish between ‘gay’ and ‘homosexual’ between the 19th/early 20th centuries and today, but happily attribute the same meaning to multiple Sanskrit terms over a millennium!

  • 53. shantanu  |  February 7, 2015 at 5:38 am

    great work…
    can you tell me some author u feel has done justice in translation of the vedas in english

  • 54. Harish  |  May 9, 2015 at 3:51 pm

    Good article ..Swami Dayanand Saraswati tried explaining in 19th century itself.

  • 55. desicontrarian  |  July 20, 2015 at 8:16 pm

    Sorry to add to your pain, but check out the Déjà vu – inducing distortion of Ashwamedha on Wikipedia. If you have time, you are the best person to edit it.

  • 56. awanti patil  |  July 23, 2015 at 1:37 pm

    Very nice..feeling very relieved that our vedas didnt mention animal scarifice…..keep up the good work

  • 57. Kavya Bisaria  |  September 18, 2015 at 1:42 pm

    I see I’ve come across this article too late.. but, would like to thank you and others like you, who take up the initiative to go through history and bring facts and truth in front of lazy people like me!


  • 58. jitu jagran  |  September 26, 2015 at 6:29 am

    Thank u very much for such an insightful article. I have always wanted to imagine Hinduism as an true and pure religion and have followed it that way .i am very happy to find your explanations of things as against the popular belif that hinduism too had the cow sacrifice practice in the ancient times. You must have exhausted a lot of time in studying the ancient scriptures in order to have such an insight on vedas.
    Therefore, i would be very thankful if someone can throw some light on the points presented in comment number ’45’ in this article by Mr. Kanchan B. Nikam. He has presented some very thoughtful, practical, out of the religious concern points; to be pondered over about the way of life and not just following the written text over 3 millenia ago blindly. There are the things which were applicable at that time and may not be applicable in current scenario

  • 59. saminath  |  December 7, 2015 at 4:07 pm

    Some people are unable face the facts.It is the same hindus who once sacrificed cows are killing people who kill cows. Once a sacrificed animal has become a sacred animal. Buddha openly condemned brahmins for eating meat from sacrifice and late kanchi kamakodi accepted it. Don’t feel ashamed. Face it.

  • 60. Nanthukumaar K  |  April 18, 2016 at 6:14 am

    Zakir Naik in his speech qouted that Hindus Vedas have said that Hindus consume beef and meat with the vesus no. ( Check you tube)
    As far as I know there no such thing exists.

    Pls clarify

  • 61. Chris  |  June 29, 2016 at 8:32 pm

    Please I am confused. Are you telling me that there are absolutely no animal sacrifices in the Vedas whatsoever?

    If this is true I would convert to Vedism in one second flat!

    Look I am European we are many not all of us HALF Aryan by blood, our ancient Germanic people share the some of the same gods.

    I love India… Here the problem…I am a vegan and have always been bothered by that they have so much meat eating etc.

    Can you suggest good translations or articles about this?

    Nemasti friend, peace and love!

    • 62. Tama Shah  |  June 30, 2016 at 6:58 am

      Dear Chris,

      I, too, am a student, and what I know today may change if I understand some things better in future. Having said that, I do think that I understand this aspect (i.e., animal sacrifice) of Veda better than most so-called experts. Just like yourself, the notion of animal sacrifice always troubled me, so I spent several years studying various texts (mostly focused on Sanskrit grammar so that I could verify things first-hand).

      What I understand is this:
      Vedas never propagated animal sacrifice. These crept in much later, probably due to pre-vedic customs and rituals gradually getting internalized in what was to be later called Hinduism. Note: please do not separate terms like Vedism, Hinduism, etc. They are one and the same.

      Finally, I would like to say this: there are tens of millions of Hindus who are vegetarian, and tens of millions of others who are not. Unlike Abrahamic religions, you are quite free to follow your own set of rules, as long as you others’ right to choose their own path. The fundamental point is: all roads lead to the same ultimate truth/God/whatever-you-choose-to-call-it. We are, therefore, free to choose our own path 🙂

      Hope this helps. And again, this is how I have understood it so far.

    • 63. Frank  |  July 6, 2016 at 4:19 pm

      There definitely were Vedic sacrifices involving animals, though these were in the minority, reserved for certain sections of the population ( such as kings and the horse sacrifice), and were often done with utmost respect. On the subtle side of things any sacrifice offered was ultimately good for the soul of that animal on a larger perspective. However such things have died out over time. ” Vedism” , of which there is no such thing, doesn’t really require a “conversion”. It is not some belief system like most of the other worlds religions though I’m not going to school you on a blog post. If you want to understand this religion properly I HIGHLY suggest the work of S.K. Ramachandra Rao who has a 16 volume set on the Vedas amongst other exstensive work on the subject, that gives respect to it both in the traditional aspects as well as the scholarly ones and avoids dogma on either side.

  • 64. Prabhath  |  September 19, 2016 at 4:29 pm

    It is not pitr’medha’ yagna or athidi’medha’ yagna….it would have been better if the meaning of the word ‘medha’ is also explained within the context of the full sentence/stanza/sloka….

  • 65. MnU  |  April 9, 2017 at 2:38 am

    🙇Aapke misconceptions hetu ye lekh aapki sewa me….😊

    Misconceptions on Vedas >
    MISCONCEPTION 3:- Violence against animals; meet eating, etc
    A) Rigveda (10/85/13) declares, “On the occasion of a girl’s marriage oxen and cows are slaughtered.”
    Fact: The mantra states that in winter, the rays of sun get weakened and then get strong again in spring. The word used for sun-rays in ‘Go’ which also means cow and hence the mantra can also be translated by making ‘cow’ and not ‘sun-rays’ as the subject. The word used for ‘weakened’ is ‘Hanyate’ which can also mean killing. But if that be so, why would the mantra go further and state in next line (which is deliberately not translated) that in spring, they start regaining their original form. How can a cow killed in winter regain its health in spring? This amply proves how ignorant and biased communists malign Vedas.
    B) Rigveda (6/17/1) states that “Indra used to eat the meat of cow, calf, horse and buffalo.” (translation by Avatar Gill and group)
    Fact: The mantra states that brilliant scholars enlighten the world in the manner that wood enhances the fire of Yajna. We fail to understand from where did Avtar Gill and his friends discover Indra, cow, calf, horse and buffalo in this mantra! Also, there is a word “Gavyam”, which are five in numbers according to Aayurved-cow’s milk, curd, butter, Mutra and Apashisht. Where does the flesh come into the picture? Mantra clearly says that the king should be well built through Saatvik bhojan like Ghrit, so that he can defend his country and kill the monsters.
    C) Manusmriti contains violence against animals
    Fact:- Unfortunately, most of the vedic texts in the last 1000 years have been adulterated. Though much work has been done in cleansing these texts in the last 100 years, still the adulterated ones remain in circulation. These adulterated texts are great source of misconceptions.
    Purana and Bhaagvat (not bhagvad geeta) is perhaps the most adulterated (we doubt even its basic writing as many portions of it are Avedic), which is beyond repair. Any reference to such cannot be taken as proof of Vedic Granth containing barbarism.
    Example, you would come accross some reference from adulterated Manusmriti, containing Violence against animals like:-
    Manusmriti (Chapter 5 / Verse 30) says, “It is not sinful to eat meat of eatable animals, for Brahma has created both the eaters and the eatables.”
    Manusmriti (5 / 35) states: When a man who is properly engaged in a ritual does not eat meat, after his death he will become a sacrificial animal during twenty-one rebirths.
    These are additional shlokas are either from adulterated Manu Smriti or misinterpreted by twisting of words. We recommend them to read Manu Smriti by Dr Surendra Kumar which is available from http://vedicbooks.com
    D) Ramayan contains Violence in Ashwamedha
    Fact:- The Ramayan we get today is a much interpolated text. Many verses have been added later on and that can be checked with a close scrutiny. The Uttar Ramayan, which contains the reference to Ashwamedha , can be proved to be a later addition by even a layman. No mantra in Vedas refer to any form of animal sacrifice. All those mantras which are alleged to have animal sacrifice, can be easily proved to mean something else, if we look at context and root meanings of the words, as used in ancient texts of grammar and vocabulary. Many of these come from misinterpretation from translations of Sayana and Mahidhar who were born in around 15th century. These translations were then publicized by western indologists. But if you look at ancient translations, and references in other books like Shatpath, Nirukta, Nighantu etc, one can easily understand the truth. Infact, Ashwamedha means efforts to make nation better and has nothing to do with horse.
    E) Some Hindu Philosophers have told that Hinduism permit meat eating
    Fact:- Many people quote those, who may be good though one subject (like Yoga) but may not have credible understanding of the Vedas


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